Browned in caramelized sugar, this recipe for braised steak has a persuasive depth of taste

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Originally printed March 31, 2006
By Greg Atkinson, former Flavor author

BROWNING Foodstuff is an aged piece of kitchen area magic with roots effectively underneath the horizon at the dawn of heritage. As significantly as anyone can inform, it’s been likely on in all places for as very long as individuals have been cooking their meals. But the science of what will make food brown has been only recently unraveled.

Two pieces of the very same sort of foodstuff — regardless of whether onions, slices of bread or rumps of wildebeest — will taste in different ways if they are cooked in different strategies. It doesn’t take much creativeness to know that a thing cooked over dwell coals or seared in hot oil will taste much more exciting than the exact thing cooked in drinking water.

The big difference is mostly a make a difference of temperature unless it’s trapped below force, h2o can never ever be hotter than its very own boiling issue, 212° F, and at that rather reduced temperature, most food merely will not brown. And browning is the crucial to a world of flavor.

One big part of browning is the formation of caramel, which is simultaneously amid the most basic and most sophisticated food items conceivable. On the one particular hand, it is almost nothing more than browned sugar. But sugar, as it browns, disintegrates and reassembles by itself into a composite of chemicals that run the gamut from sweet and nutty to bitter and bitter. In between are whiffs of sherry in oak, hints of ripening apples and solutions of melted butter.

But there is far more to browning than very simple caramelization of sugars. In “On Food stuff and Cooking,” food items scientist Harold McGee describes “Maillard reactions,” the browning that happens in foodstuff that are not mainly sugars, named for Louis Maillard, a French doctor who chronicled his observations of these reactions around 1910.

Considering that they involve far more complicated substances to begin with — proteins and fats in addition to carbs — Maillard reactions are even extra sophisticated than caramelization. At higher temperatures, the sulfur and nitrogen compounds in protein different and arrive again with each other like bits of colored glass inside of a kaleidoscope to form new aromatic chemicals that evoke almost everything from wood smoke, onions, leather-based and chocolate, to a host of floral and vegetal delights impossible to pin down.

Not long in the past, I was thinking about all this as I browned a piece of beef in a shallow puddle of melted sugar. I was shed in a chemically inspired reverie when my 12-yr-aged, who was lured absent from his online video game by the heavenly aromas wafting from the kitchen area, brought me again to Earth.

“Dad!” he claimed. “That smells so fantastic! What are you making?”

“I’m making beef in caramel sauce,” I said.

“Sounds gross,” he countered issue-of-factly. “But it smells remarkable. When will it be ready?”

Caramel with savory dishes does sound gross if you consider of caramel as sweet, but to me, it helps make perfect perception. Think of “Kitchen Bouquet,” the things in the little brown bottle that midcentury homemakers utilized to incorporate to dishes like onion soup and roast beef to make them brown. The taste-enhancer, or whatsoever it is identified as, is essentially caramel.

I started using a small amount of caramelized sugar to insert taste and colour to savory dishes many years ago, and ultimately it transpired to me that the caramel itself would make a great starting stage for uncomplicated household-cooked dishes like braised meats. And many thanks to Maillard reactions, which McGee describes as “even additional lucky and complex” than caramelization, the effects are phenomenal.

It may be science, but it tastes like magic. 

Caramel Braised Cube Steak with Garlic and Thyme
Serves 4

Dice steak is an affordable reduce of beef that has been tenderized with rolling cutters. However, it is a comparatively tough cut that necessitates sluggish-braising in get to grow to be totally tender. Browned in caramelized sugar, the braised steak has a powerful depth of flavor, not sweet but loaded. Serve with mashed potatoes and a inexperienced vegetable the pan juices make a superb sauce.

1 (24-ounce) cube steak
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 cloves garlic
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon contemporary thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf, clean or dried
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon chilly h2o

1. Opt for an enameled or cast-iron pan hardly substantial more than enough to accommodate the steak, and put the dry pan more than medium-significant heat. Scatter the sugar more than the floor of the pan. The sugar will melt, unevenly at to start with stir it with a picket spoon or a spatula till it is a deep brown and entirely melted pool covering the bottom of the pan.

2. Sprinkle the cube steak with the salt and pepper and, making use of tongs to stay away from receiving splashed with scorching caramel, lay the steak carefully to rest in the molten sugar. The steak will straight away start off to sizzle and brown. When it is very well-browned on a person side, after about 30 seconds, transform it over and brown the other side.

3. Place the garlic cloves in the pan about the steak, and pour in the drinking water. Sprinkle the thyme leaves about the drowned steak, and tuck the bay leaf into the liquid. Address the pan, lessen the warmth to reduced and permit the steak to simmer gently in the caramel sauce until it is fork-tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

4. Transfer the steak from the pan to a slicing board, and permit it relaxation while you finish the sauce. Boost the temperature to high, and whisk the cornstarch combination into the pan juices deliver the sauce to a boil, and permit it boil for a minute. Carve the steak into 12 or 16 slices, and distribute the slices evenly around 4 serving plates. Major every single serving with the caramel sauce.

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